OAKLAND, Calif. The Oakland Athletics traded their second top starter in three days, sending left-hander Mark Mulder to the National League champion St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday for a package of prospects.
Mulder follows Tim Hudson out of town, leaving Barry Zito as the only remaining member of Oakland's vaunted ''Big Three'' pitchers. Hudson was dealt to Atlanta on Thursday for three mostly unproven players.
''We've had to reinvent ourselves every year,'' A's general manager Billy Beane said. ''This is probably the most drastic. ... There's certainly some sadness losing first Tim and then Mark from a personal standpoint. Unfortunately, this is something we've had to deal with. We're still the Oakland A's. We're still going to go on.''
Mulder could be the top-notch pitcher the Cardinals sorely lacked when they got swept by the Boston Red Sox in the World Series, but that's if he's healthy.
In return, the A's acquired pitchers Danny Haren and Kiko Calero and minor league catcher Daric Barton.
''We're extremely excited to have obtained a pitcher of Mark's caliber,'' Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty said. ''He is the top of the rotation-type pitcher we've been working hard to obtain this offseason. It was difficult to part with the three players we traded but to acquire someone like Mulder we felt that this deal worked for us in several ways.''
Mulder replaces Woody Williams, who was not offered salary arbitration by the Cardinals and signed a free-agent deal earlier this month with San Diego. Mulder will join Chris Carpenter, Jason Marquis, Jeff Suppan and Matt Morris in a rotation where all five pitchers won at least 15 games last season. Morris might not be available until May after going undergoing offseason shoulder surgery.
Mulder might have some health questions of his own, especially after his perplexing finish to last season. But Beane said Saturday that Mulder is healthy.
The 6-foot-6 lefty, the AL starter in the All-Star game, seemed destined for Cy Young award consideration midway through the season, but went winless in his last seven starts 0-4 with a 7.27 ERA.
On Aug. 24, he became the first 17-game winner in the majors, then didn't win again. There was speculation he was hurt and not telling anyone.
Mulder missed the end of the 2003 season with a stress fracture in his right leg near the hip, then pitched a team-high 225 2-3 innings in 2004.
He repeatedly claimed to be healthy despite a drop in his velocity late in the year. Manager Ken Macha said the day after the season Mulder probably was worn down by his heavy work load.
Mulder (17-8) pitched so poorly during the playoff push, the A's briefly considered skipping his turn and using September callup Joe Blanton during the final weekend against Anaheim. Mulder did get the start, but was knocked out after two innings, his shortest outing of the season.
and the A's wound up missing the playoffs for the first time in five years.
Mulder was drafted second overall by the A's in 1998 and was signed through the 2005 season with a club option to return in 2006.
After Hudson was swapped to the Braves, the news of Mulder's departure was even more shocking. At least in Hudson's case, there had been rumors swirling.
''What, you've got to be kidding me,'' outfielder Eric Byrnes said. ''Wow. I don't know what to tell you.''
Beane still believes Oakland will be competitive in the challenging AL West, though he knows plenty of people will be skeptical about the team's chances. He watched Sandy Alderson trade Mark McGwire to St. Louis in 1997, ''and at that time supposedly the franchise was going to collapse,'' Beane said.
Oakland competed in 1999 and started its string of four straight trips to the playoffs in 2000.
''Certainly there's a lot of the future involved in this,'' Beane said. ''I think with certain areas, we've improved. I'm not discounting 2005 either. We have to be very patient with three positions, that being the three starting pitchers.''
If he had to guess now, Beane would put Zito, Rich Harden, Dan Meyer, Blanton and Haren in the A's starting rotation. Meyer came to the A's on Thursday in the Hudson deal.
Haren, a 24-year-old right-hander, was 3-3 with a 4.50 ERA in 14 games, including five starts, in three stints with the Cardinals last season.
Calero went 3-1 with two saves and a 2.78 ERA in 41 relief appearances for St. Louis in 2004, allowing a .176 opponent batting average.
Barton was the Cardinals' first-round pick (28th overall) in 2003. He spent last season at Single-A Peoria, where he batted .313 with 13 home runs and 77 RBIs.
This was the first major league trade between the clubs since the McGwire deal on July 31, 1997, for T.J. Mathews and minor league pitchers Blake Stein and Eric Ludwick.
AP Sports Writer R.B. Fallstrom contributed to this story.
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